Sunday, December 13th 2015 – Bruges
So it was up and at ’em pretty promptly on Sunday morning as we wanted to see as much as possible. It was a ridiculously mild morning so after breakfast in the somewhat disappointing breakfast room (which felt more like an institutional cafeteria than a dining room in what purported to be a four star hotel and served food that rather reinforced that impression) we headed for the tourist information office to buy ourselves a Bruges City Card and investigate what there was to see and do on a December Sunday. Apart from drool down the windows of the chocolate shops that is.
The card looked like a good deal whether the tourist boats were running or not as it covered all the museums in town pretty much. As the canal tours are not guaranteed to be running during December we went down to the nearest embarkation point to see what the situation was and were pleased to discover that the boats were indeed in operation, no doubt as a result of the clement weather and the mass of tourists already thronging the landing stages. Although it’s the ultimate cliché in some respects it had to be done. We made our way on board and were reminded of much of the history of Bruges, a city that can’t help but fascinate medieval history buffs with the reminders of that time round every corner and bend in the waterways.
A hot drink and a waffle was needed after the canal boat and then it was on to the Groeninge Museum (though we did stop and eye the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce hotel with some longing – as you would really).
The walk was short but attractive and we were soon at the museum. I love the Groeninge Museum for its wonderful collection of the Flemish Primitives (although why you would call those works or those artists primitive in any way is beyond me) and we enjoyed a trawl round playing our usual game of “if you could take one piece home with you which would it be?” Here’s my choice:
Although I could make a persuasive case for something more modern.
From there it was on to the Arentshuis, which I havent visited before. We sidetracked on the way to the museum shop to buy some running gear as I’d managed to forget my own. I just had shoes and socks with me. Anyway, the Arentshuis. I’d not heard of it on previous visits and I certainly didn’t know about Frank Brangwyn, whose work is featured in there – and which is rather wonderful, especially the furniture that was on show in there. I love art nouveau anyway though I admit to not knowing much about it (I must remedy that one of these days) and these were beautiful examples of the style. I certainly need to know more about Brangwyn as well.
I wanted to touch them – and just about managed to stop myself. It wouldn’t do to get thrown out of a museum! From there we would have gone on to the Gruuthusemuseum but it was closed for renovation (and will be until some time in 2018 it seems).
It was time for lunch so we made our way to the St. Jan’s Hospital site and stopped off for shrimp croquettes.
From there it was more medieval painting all round with the Memlings in the Sint Jans Hospitaal itself. We had a timed entry ticket so we looked into what had been the medieval apothecary’s surgery first. It’s fascinating and in some ways strangely modern.
It was also very quiet in there, which could not be said for the main hall. However, as it was now edging towards the end of the afternoon it could have been much worse. We circulated round drooling gently over the paintings and wanting to take them all away with us!
From this point we decided that we’d done enough museums for the day but that we would walk back through the quieter backstreets of Bruges, swinging past the Folk Museum and discovering there was some sort of art market in full swing when we got there. We had a nose around but didn’t stop long. It was getting late and dark it was time to go back to the hotel and take the weight off our feet for a while.
We’d got a restaurant sorted for the evening but first we tried out the hotel bar, with no particular expectations after breakfast. Actually it was pleasant enough and the barman was very good at making champagne cocktails, so it was a huge improvement on the breakfast setup.
That night we dined at the Assiette Blanche, a much more traditionally Belgian establishment than de Florentijnen, all wood panelled walls and heavy linen. We walked there through the Christmas-lit streets, the weather still mild if windy, marvelling at some of the very odd decorations that had been put up to mark the season.
We were soon comfortably settled in the restaurant and our run of good luck with our choices was still holding. The amuse bouches was a cheese souffle, small, densely cheesy and rather spectacular, proving the kitchen was nowhere near as traditional as the front of house.
Next up for me was smoked eel and scrambled egg, a creamy delight of a dish of which I could have eaten far more.
It was just as well I didn’t. Next was a partridge terrine, with brioche and onion jam. It wasn’t as memorable as the egg and eel but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty.
Grey shrimps never sound attractive but they do taste wonderful Served with a potato mousse, poached egg and beurre noisette they taste even better than usual and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.
The next course was a move into meat after a fishy start… A supreme of guinea fowl, with celeriac, Brussels sprouts and shallots did much to resurrect the reputation of the humble sprout though Lynne really wasn’t convinced. At least she managed to eat some of them, which is not what normally happens with any brassicas.
The final savoury course was a superb wild mushroom risotto. I’ve become over the years somewhat obsessed with the search for the perfect risotto, which has caused me to eat some not so good ones as well as some very good indeed ones, and to get into discussions with more than one chef on the subject, not always to the positive. I’m still of the opinion that the best one I have ever eaten – and possibly ever will eat was in the utterly sublime Derby Grill restaurant of the Hotel de la Ville in Monza. That is going to take some beating to be honest. However, this one got very close to that gold standard.
And after that it was all we could to manage a dessert, even an unctuously chocolatey dame blanche.
After a very long, slow dinner (and a chat with some of the very friendly regulars) we left the restaurant and made our way back to the hotel trying not to trip over the cobbles. And of course avoiding the inevitable wardrobe back at the hotel. It was time for bed.